Thursday, 18 March 2010

Prevention vs Detection

I read another story about government (or in this case the Police) adding audit trail functionality to the Police National Computer. This is being done to help detect abuse of the system.
Now audit trails are great and should be used in many databases to know actually who/what/when, however, what the government still fail to grasp is that prevention is better than detection. For instance, if you were running a banking system, you wouldn't rely on an audit trail to find out who transferred £10 million out of the bank to someone elses account, you would have a system that requires authorisation to make the transaction in the first place. Simply knowing who committed the crime will not help in the majority of cases (the accused has fled, money already spent, information already used to their benefit). This is as well as the fact that catching someone then requires legal action that may or may not work and will cost even more money.
This is a crucial principle and it is what needs to be recognised for databases that contain identity information. Saying that "we have training", or "we audit all access to the system" is quite bluntly not good enough. Once that information is stolen and sold (usually) it cannot be recovered, the damage cannot be undone, someone is left to pick up the pieces or a guilty person mascarades as an innocent person and can commit all manner of crimes.
Dear Government, this is Computer Security 101. Prevention is better than detection. If you can't prevent, don't deploy the system!
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